[imagesource: Thuli Dlamini]
While the likes of President Ramaphosa and Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize have been lauded for their response to the coronavirus pandemic, other government officials have failed, and failed miserably.
Three that stand out are Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, Fikile Mbalula, and Bheki Cele, and when we asked who was the worst of the bunch last week, it didn’t seem a clear-cut call.
Fast forward 10 days, and Minister of Police Bheki Cele looks to be running away with the title, and even those within law enforcement are sounding the alarm.
According to News24, a senior police official who was involved in “high-level government meetings” this week, says it’s “only a matter of time before protests and looting erupted on an unmanageable scale”:
The official, who cannot be named as they are not authorised to speak with the media, said a warning over possible increases in social unrest as witnessed in Cape Town this week was given to police management and Police Minister Bheki Cele…
The official raised concern over Cele’s consideration of the possible protests and looting, saying the minister “had lost the plot”.
“He [Cele] is not ignoring it,” the official said. “But if we don’t put out these fires quickly, it will get too big to control.”
The official said it appeared Cele was more concerned with alcohol and cigarette bans, and policing petty violations than tackling the real problems.
“We are policing petty crimes while people are getting beaten up and murdered for going to the shops. People are broke, people are hungry. Crime is going to go through the roof. We are worried that more people will die of starvation than will die of the coronavirus.”
Time and time again, Cele dons his signature mafioso hat and speaks about the ills of alcohol and cigarettes, but he seems nonplussed about a number of other concerns.
Not least of which is how police and SANDF forces are accused of being involved in nine deaths since the lockdown was enacted, the latest of which is enough to make the blood boil.
The government continues to lose out on billions of tax revenue from tobacco and alcohol sales, with the illicit market making a killing, and South Africans grow more frustrated at being policed over what they drink and smoke.
For an idea of how frustrated people are growing, consider that a shopkeeper in Malmesbury was stabbed to death on Wednesday evening for refusing to sell cigarettes, and his colleague stabbed in the neck. Read more on that here.
I have no doubt you’ve seen the videos of liquor stores being looted across the country, but how about this from a butchery in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, earlier in the week?
Beacon Valley Looting pic.twitter.com/LNTv7GuHam
— Yusuf Abramjee (@Abramjee) April 15, 2020
That’s truly terrifying.
These scenes also from Mitchells Plain earlier in the week:
Told to go inside for lockdown, kids chant “we want food” as AZ Berman and Langeberg is blocked with tyres and rocks in Mitchells Plain. I see one Metro Police man’s hand is bleeding @TeamNews24 pic.twitter.com/LayXCTYdAn
— Jenni Evans (@itchybyte) April 14, 2020
It’s easy to see why extending our national lockdown make sense, but then our government needs to be incredibly proactive in ensuring that the basic needs of those who suffer the most, like the food vulnerable, are met.
As Rebecca Davis, writing for the Daily Maverick, points out, “it is now clear that hunger will pose the greatest threat to South African well-being and security during the lockdown”.
She has outlined a number of problems that need addressing, which we will touch on below.
Problem #1: A lack of existing capacity for distributing food
When it comes to social support for the poor in South Africa, the responsibility technically falls to the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) under the department of social development.
But Sassa’s offices have been closed since the beginning of the national lockdown, and the department of social development does not seem to have the capacity to deal with current food security needs.
Further proof that anything Bathabile Dlamini comes near to is doomed to die a slow and painful death.
Problem #2: A lack of data on who needs support
Sassa has a list of existing social grant beneficiaries and the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) now has records of who has applied for unemployment support at this time, but it is recognised that those most in need are people who do not currently qualify for either a Sassa grant or UIF support.
Problem #3: The bureaucracy involved in verifying food claims
As things stand, the bureaucratic process involved in verifying the claims of those who need food is cumbersome, time-consuming and varies from province to province. It is not as simple as people in need turning up at a food bank to claim parcels.
Problem #4: The politicisation of food distribution and related corruption
The DA’s Gauteng social development spokesperson Refiloe Nt’sekhe released a statement on Wednesday alleging that “five DA wards in the Emfuleni local municipality have been excluded from the distribution of food parcels while all the ANC wards in this municipality are benefiting”…
The EFF has made a similar claim, alleging that EFF members are being denied food parcels in both Tshwane and the Eastern Cape…
In a different context, Daily Maverick also reported this week that although gangs on the Cape Flats are said to be distributing food parcels, it is alleged that only households which agree to hide drugs for the gangs are receiving relief.
There may be something of a ceasefire underway, but that allegation above is truly terrifying. No South African should be forced to hide drugs to feed their family.
Davis goes on to outline a few more pressing problems, and some possible solutions. You can read her piece in full here.
What is now more obvious than ever is that in a country often ranked as the most unequal in the world, the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be anything but a great leveller.
Instead, it’s further highlighting the disparity between the haves and the have notes, where concerns range from the inability to walk one’s dogs (still a valid concern) through to the daily struggle for food.
If the lockdown extension is to be a success, looking after the needs of the most vulnerable in our society needs to become priority number one.
Oh, and that awful man and his awful gangster hat need to be held accountable.
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